Ever wonder what goes into the decision for a company to Make It Here in the Quad Cities? What makes a region stand out, how is economic development changing, and what can our community do differently to attract new investment to the region?
These are the age-old questions in the world of economic development, and recently we had the opportunity to hear the answers firsthand during the Chamber’s Business, Innovation & Leadership Sessions. A panel of site selectors (individuals who assist companies in making global business location decisions) discussed community competitiveness, workforce, regionalism, quality of life and more.
“As community leaders work together toward shared goals of regional prosperity, we wanted this panel to provide insight into how the Quad Cities region can continue to compete for jobs and investment,” said Liz Murray Tallman, Chief Economic Development Officer for the Quad Cities Chamber.
The group included Chris Schastok of CBRE in Chicago, Carol Henderson of Cushman & Wakefield in Atlanta, Minah Hall of True Partners in Chicago, and John Longshore of Global Location Solutions in Greenville, South Carolina.
During their stay, the group got a close-up view of core Quad-City industries, including a tour of East Moline’s John Deere Harvester Works, the world’s largest combine factory. They also visited Kone corporate operations in Moline and Genesis Systems Group in Davenport, a global leader in robotics system integration.
The foursome also had the opportunity to meet with 15 area CEOs, educational and utility partners as well as economic development practitioners from 12 communities. While much was discussed during their time here, certain themes emerged.
Our region’s strengths
Naturally our location is always an asset: we are a bi-state geographic location with access to great transportation routes via river, rail, highway, and an airport that connects to major hubs for our size of community. In fact, they said if there’s ever talk of taking away any of those connections, we “… need to make some noise!”
Another advantage is that we have a large, regional laborshed of 588,000+ available and productive workforce in our area. As technology continues to evolve, strong partnerships with educational institutions will be of great value to area businesses, so we should continue to focus on building those. By working together and thinking creatively to find solutions, it helps our region better address future skills gaps and training needs for our workforce.
The site selectors also commended us on how we embrace regionalism, working together as one large area. The benefit of doing so is that it allows us to showcase a broader range of resources collectively across multiple counties, which makes us look bigger to a client. It’s also more efficient for a site selector to work with us because they only have one area to remember (vs. lots of smaller ones) and have one point of contact.
Opportunities for improvement within our region
We know we have a GREAT story to tell; so we need to continue to leverage those great corporate partners to hear what’s going on in their world. Sometimes we tend to have a modest Midwest mentality, but we can’t be afraid to toot our own horn! If you haven’t already, set up a Business Connections call. Business Connections calls are a great opportunity to talk about what’s happening at your company while connecting with resources you may need. Email Michelle Lewis, Director of Regional Business Development, to schedule one at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In our business attraction efforts, we market a six-county area (Scott, Muscatine, and Clinton Counties in Iowa and Rock Island, Henry, and Mercer Counties in Illinois) as one region, which is why consistency in identity is important. Representing ourselves as one – and doing so on a regular basis – builds brand equity. We’ve already undertaken work to clarify our region’s identity and will continue to build on that.
They also encouraged us to embrace our strengths, and not try to be something we aren’t.
We have a lot of legacy blue-chip companies here that are constantly evolving, which is why initiatives like the Quad Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub are crucial to help identify ways to help our area manufacturers and defense contractors to grow, diversify, and remain competitive. For example, finding opportunities for local contracting in the supply chain is one such way we can help business growth.
Other important takeaways
It’s exciting to know that somebody is interested in potentially choosing us, but spilling the beans before the contract is ready to be announced could have financial, regulatory, or human capital implications for the company. When working an economic development deal, the Chamber and all of our partners operate under a non-disclosure agreement because we don’t want to put the negotiations, and the company with whom we’re negotiating, at risk.
Site selectors also advise that when politicians are involved in negotiations upfront, companies view that region as having a lot of bureaucratic red tape to navigate, which can kill the deal. They get it. Who doesn’t love announcing that a brand new company is bringing 150 jobs to your city? But there is a time and a place for everyone’s involvement. And in the words of one site selector, “Injecting politics and the world we live in right now in economic development doesn't play … When I do work and I do projects, clients want nothing to do with it.”
Finally, the readiness of land sites with expansion possibilities and infrastructure capabilities is more important to than spec buildings. Also, having easy access to the most current data online is important to help them make their decisions. In the next generation of economic development, many site selectors are looking at us before we even know it.
What can you do to help?
Be a community ambassador. Understand what’s new and what’s going on in our region, so that everyone can consistently talk the talk to those curious about our area. As a business leader, be willing to meet with site selectors when potential new businesses come to town. Having access to those who are established in the region gives them invaluable insight into the business climate.
Having feedback like this is invaluable as we work together to grow our region. As one of the panel pointed out, “In rowing, if you have eight people in the boat and they're all rowing, it can just take one person who's not in sync to really affect the trajectory of the speed of where you're going. So you may get ultimately where you're going, but you're not as effective in getting there. So if you're all hitting the water at the same time, you're all moving in sync, you'll get to where you're going.”